In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

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A Walk in the Woods

These guys still know how to not just hold our attention but grab it, even if their current film needs them more than they need…

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War Room

War Room preaches that we have no call to be righteous and judge others, yet the film itself is righteous and judgmental in the extreme.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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I believe the Mushroom Man can save the world

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"Mushroom Man," by Leslie Iwerks, tells us: "This is the story of how mushrooms can save the world! Renowned mycologist and mushroom pioneer Paul Stamets harnesses the power of infamous fungi to fight the planet's leading problems, from developing cures for cancer to destroying toxic radioactive waste."

There's a back story here. Bill Stamets, Paul's brother, has been a Chicago friend of mine for years. We always sit in the back row of the Lake Street Screening Room. He is a film critic for many outlets, often helping with Sun-Times festival coverage. He's a filmmaker, photographer, and very busy as a film teacher. He's always telling me about his brother Paul, the Mushroom Man. I've always imagined some post-hippie organic guru with plastic on the windows of his garage, selling mushrooms from a pickup at farmer's markets. Bill would say that wasn't quite the story with Paul. Chaz always sits closer to Bill, and listens better. She touted this film to me. Now that I've seen it, I realize: I've been sitting with the brother of a hope for the planet. RE

Mushroom Man | Leslie Iwerks from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

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Orson Welles young, old, drunk, sober, and plenty pissed off about frozen peas

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Booked into the Auditorium Theater in Chicago in the 1930s, Orson Welles was confronted by a snowstorm of historic proportions. Most of his audience couldn't make it to the theater.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," he said. "My name is Orson Welles. I am an actor. I am a writer. I am a producer. I am a director. I am a magician. I appear onstage and on the radio. Why are there so many of me and so few of you?"

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The Ebert Archives: I attend the All-American Picnic at the premiere of "Divorce American Style"

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We've been porting my old material over to our new website in construction, and sometimes I come across a blast from the past. Here's a story of a kind now rarely written, about a kind of event now rarely held. It was new ground for me; I'd been the paper's film critic for less than three months.

by Roger Ebert / June 25, 1967

"You don't, ah, know anything about a race where you balance beans on a knife, do you?"

Barry Lorie wanted to know. Columbia Pictures had flown him in from Denver to run the whole world premiere and now here he was without any picnic rules.

"You wouldn't get very far with round beans," said Tom Gorman, the public relations man from Balaban & Katz. "Navy beans, maybe . . ."

"What we gotta get is somebody who knows how to run a picnic," Lorie said. "You guys know anything about running a picnic?"

"We were thinking maybe we could get somebody from the Park District," Gorman said. "Or some disk jockeys."

"You know what I think?" said Lorie. "I think this whole country is a full generation away from an old-fashioned American picnic. We're going to go out there and bomb. The kids won't even know what a sack race is."

"We'll get somebody to run the races," Gorman said. "You leave that to us."

This was two weeks ago, right after Lorie got into town to run the world premiere of "Divorce American Style." World premieres used to be big deals, with proclamations from the mayor and crowds surging against the police lines, but in recent years Hollywood hasn't very often really exerted itself.

"But this is going to be a big one," Lorie promised. "This one will be an old-fashioned, all-American premiere. Know what we'll do?"

"No," we said.

"Well, Debbie Reynolds will be here, of course. So we thought, the movie is 'Divorce American Style.' So why not dream up something to dramatize LIVING American style? Maybe a typical American picnic in a typical Chicago suburb."

After they had thought of this, Lorie said, Balaban & Katz chartered a plane and he went flying over Chicago, searching from the air for the typical Chicago suburb. Finally, he found it: Winston Hills! Thirty-six minutes southwest of the Loop! Even from the air you could see how typical it was, he said. So the plan was for Debbie to spend last Monday evening at Winston Hills. She would meet a typical family and then attend the typical picnic.

Monday dawned with a clear sky and cooler weather. Lorie and Gorman were up early to drive out to O'Hare in rented limousines - the Lincoln Continental Executive Model for Debbie, a Cadillac for the back-up car.

At 5 p.m. sharp, Debbie and her hairdresser, Sidney Guilaroff, were to leave the Ambassador East for the picnic. But it wasn't until 5:30 that the limousines finally left.

Debbie and Sidney shared the Lincoln with this reporter, and Lorie had the Cadillac all to himself. Several photographers were originally scheduled to drive out in the Cadillac, but they decided to take their own cars.

The Continental threaded its way down Michigan Ave. and cut across to Lake Shore.

"I will never survive this picnic," Debbie said.

"I don't know why you do it, Debbie, honestly I don't," Guilaroff said. "Why you give so much of yourself?"

"I enjoy it, actually," she said.

The limousine arrived at the assembly point in Winston Hills at 6:34. Miss Reynolds was introduced to Joshua Muss, president of the Hills.

Muss got into the limousine and a police car, lights flashing and siren blowing, led the way to the home of Edward and Rosemary Dobson.

The Dobsons turned out to be a friendly, extroverted couple who invited Debbie into their living room for punch and cookies. "This is Richard, our son, and our own Debbie, our daughter," Mrs. Dobson said. "And here is Mayor Roberts, and the mayor's wife, in yellow. And I'd like you to meet Fr. Mathias Kucera of St. Joan of Arc.

Guilaroff took a cup of punch and went into the kitchen, where one of the Dobson children said, "Like you to meet our cat, and thrust a large cat into Guilaroff's arms.

Then Mrs. Dobson presented Debbie with a large white box. "A little present from the community," she said. Debbie opened it. "Oh, how nice," she said. "A poncho . . . no, a terrycloth . . . is it a beach robe? Yes. How nice. And it would make a great maternity top, too, right?"

The women had a good laugh, and then everybody went back out and got into the cars again to go to the picnic. The picnic grounds were, at the 71st St. Park. When the limousines arrived, there were already 1,500 or 2,000 people at the park, half of them lined-up at the gate waiting for Debbie, the rest lined up for free fried chicken. The Continental was mobbed by youngsters with fried chicken in one hand and autograph books in the other, and Debbie, as she got out of the car, whispered, "I may never see you all again."

Joe Ragann, the Winston Hills chief of police, organized his force into a flying wedge to get Debbie to the bandstand. And there, on the bandstand, a portable microphone in his band and a battery pack over his shoulder and a red tag saying "Official" pinned to his knit shirt, was Tom Gorman.

"I finally figured I might as well run the games myself," he explained, "Who else knows what a sack race is?"

Debbie started to speak into the microphone, but hundreds of pieces of paper were thrust at her for her autograph. She turned to Lorie and said, "Maybe we'd better pass out the autographed pictures and save some time." Lorie's face paled. The autographed pictures. He could see them as clear as day - left behind in B&K's offices.

Guilaroff, who had been standing to one side on the grandstand, now came forward and took the mike.

Debbie said, "Why don't we all go over and start the races? Do you all want to win a prize?" The kids turned and descended on Gorman, whose amplified voice could be heard from somewhere in the middle of the mob.

"All right, here we go." Gorman said. "I need 10 volunteers." A hundred hands shot up. "OK, OK," he said. "Just 10 for this race, and then we'll have another."

The policemen were trying to get the picnickers to back up and clear an area for the race, but without much luck. Finally Chief Ragann had a brainstorm. "Everybody in front sit down!" he shouted. "What an inspiration," said a press agent, "The ones behind won't be able to climb over the prone bodies."

After the sack race, which Debbie won, there was a balloon-blowing contest and a three-legged race. The balloon-blowing contest wasn't much of a success, because half the kids thought the idea was to make your balloon burst first, and the rest thought you were supposed to produce the biggest unburst balloon. Gorman, ever a diplomat, ordered ribbons to be awarded to the winners of both categories.

Then it was time for Debbie and Sidney to have some chicken. Several slightly used drumsticks were offered up by the kids who had been carrying them around during the races, but Lorie fought through the crowd with a plate of white meat and Debbie posed while Sidney, out of the limelight for the moment, gnawed. "Haven't really eaten anything yet today, he explained.

And then, at last, it was 8:15 and the sun was going down. Signing autographs until the end, Debbie worked her way back to the Lincoln. A little boy with a Polaroid kept trying to edge past Chief Ragann and take her picture, and finally Debbie stopped and said, "No, you'll have to back up. You're too close to get a good picture." She turned and whispered to Guilaroff, "I don't know what he's trying to do. He keeps shooting my earlobe and my elbow and things."

The limousine was quiet after the chaos of the picnic. Debbie settled back, her feet propped up, and as the auto began to leave the park someone shouted, "Congratulations on your World Premiere!"

"Oh, dear," Debbie said, "that's not until tomorrow." Here is a link to my review of the film. I gave it 3 1/2 stars. It was better than the picnic.

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All hail Queen Ida! Clap your hands! Rotate your hips. Be happy. Be real happy.

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I only saw Queen Ida once, but that was enough. No, not enough. But it was the only chance I had. This was at Holstein's, the music saloon on North Halsted St. in Chicago, just down the street from Somebody Else's Troubles and run by brothers Fred and Ed Holstein, who were at the heart of the city's golden age of folk.

Holstein's wasn't a huge room, but it was packed. The pay must not have been great, but the Queen played like a million bucks. Her first language is French. She was the first woman to lead a zydeco band--zydeco, the music of the bayou.

There is such joy in her performance. I've been posting some pieces about New Orleans by my good friend Ellie Cooney. I mentioned Queen Ida. Many were the times, Ellie said, when "she danced me into a puddle of sweat."

N.B.: In my quest spanning the years, I find that the best albums to play loud while exercising are Queen Ida's and good Soca. That's because most of the time you can't quite understand the French, cajun and some English, mixed in a gumbo. Instrumental music can seem seem too insistent on the treadmill. A vocal gives you company, but spares you from following the words.

Opens with an interview with the Queen:

Cick here on the queen Ida Listening Page.

Here is her Wikipedia entry. The Queen is still with us at 83.

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The top ten films of 1922

This is too neat not to share wit.you

First, the respected team of David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson of Madison, Wis., weary of best ten lists, decided to issue something different: The Top Ten of 1922.

Now, the famous critic and video essayist Kevin B. Lee of Chicago has awarded the Oscars for 1922, based on their "nominees."

Now, Kevin Lee has posted this priceless video featuring the ten films, on Fandor.com.

And online at Fandor, if you follow this link, you will find links to five of the nominees, in full length. Fandor offers a free trial. I think of it as a Netflix for those whose quests for films range more widely than most.

Kevin's video:

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My video tours of London, Cambridge and York

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I was so surprised to find this on You Tube. I hosted several segments of the "Focus on Britain" series in the 1980s. It was produced by the British Tourist Authority. I haven't seen this in more than 25 years.

...and then, a month later, this turned up! I'd never seen it. I take the reader on the route traced by my book The Perfect London Walk. With an introduction by Sir MIchael Caine, no less. When a reader found his and told me about it, it had less than 100 hits, perhaps because the title didn't tempt Google.

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